Boston’s already got so much music stuffed into its nooks and crannies that a festival highlighting its underground acts seems redundant. Why draw attention to those already left in the shadows? But Hassle Fest, a three-day music festival now entering its seventh year, goes beyond simple cherry picking to foster a community, style, and sound that challenges listeners as much as it rewards them.
Presented by BRAIN Arts Organization, Hassle Fest 7 brings a whopping 50 bands to the stages of Cambridge Elks Lodge, Out of the Blue Too Gallery, and Brighton Music Hall, combining local tours de force (Downtown Boys, Pile, Guerrilla Toss) with national headliners (Flipper, Screaming Females, Tyondai Braxton of Battles) for mind-bending experiences. What separates it from the likes of other local festivals is simple: At Hassle Fest, you relearn how to listen.
Math rock, noise punk, and glitchy electronica don’t hit with the spoonful of sugar pop does. When you get them, though, they’re wildly more delectable. There’s a reason genres that challenge stereotypes and song structure never lose their appeal: They dart across your brain, leaving you dizzy, shaken up, and curious as to where that innovation came from. By rounding up pools of acts who put this songwriting into motion like Cloud Becomes Your Hand or Serengeti, Hassle Fest ensures three nights’ worth of music that reminds you what it’s like to hear music that blows your mind for the first time. Listening, an act that seems simple solely because of the ways in which we take it for granted, is the hardest challenge out there. When you’re at Hassle Fest, you learn how to listen. You listen to something fully and openly. You listen to a band you’ve never heard of. Then you listen to another band that’s new to you, over and over, and don’t fall into the comforts of knowing an act’s music inside and out. For an hour or two, you both hear and fall in love with new songs at the same time, and it’s a colorful swirl of sonic space that pays itself off in the end.
Considering its inclusive approach to music organization beyond the festival, this creativity makes sense. The music blog Boston Hassle—which, in case the name didn’t make it clear, throws this whole shindig—fosters an innovative, compelling, and interconnected experience through grassroots and inclusive participatory culture. That means running off volunteers only. That means putting passion at the forefront. That means getting all-ages access to music normally presented in 21+ spaces. Thursday’s show at Cambridge Elks Lodge is all ages, as is the show immediately following it at Out of the Blue Too Gallery. Both Brighton Music Hall shows on Friday and Saturday are all ages until 11:30 pm, when those under 18 have to leave. In a city slammed with curfews and restrictions, Hassle Fest’s ability to work out a deal speaks to its priorities and persistence.
At the first Hassle Fest I ever went to, I knew about five bands on the bill. Looking back on that, I can’t help but shudder. What was I doing that left me unaware of the fruitfulness of our own musical backyard? It was a lineup stacked with Boston greats and niche touring acts who delight live. To think I almost missed half of them because I thought I wouldn’t miss anything “big” if I showed up late—probably to sleep in, refresh Facebook a dozen times too many, and read a few chapters in whatever book I was reading that, really, could wait. It’s the local festival that smashed my preconceptions regarding the negative connotations that come with the label “local” and the stiff upper lip I thought the music scene had. When you come to Hassle Fest, you come to learn. It isn’t just the musicians who are the teachers, though. You step up to the plate to teach yourself how to readjust your mentality, no matter how open-minded or liberal you think you are to begin with.
BOSTON HASSLE FEST 7. THU 11.5 – SAT 11.7. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 2PM/ALL AGES/$75. BOSTONHASSLE.COM